Tai Chi, Chinese Medicine, and the Cultivation of Qi
by Joseph Ellerin, LAc, RMT, Dip. Hom.
March 21, 2014
One of the ideas I most admire about Chinese medicine is its all encompassing approach to health. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a long and rich history dating back over 3000 years. Its disciplines encompass everything from Chinese herbal medicine to dietary therapy, acupuncture, and Chinese massage (known as tui na), as well as physical exercises known as tai chi and qi gong.
Tai chi and qi gong employ soft, slow movements with proper breathing and awareness. They are practiced in China and around the world for their health giving properties. Since tai chi is also considered a martial art, many take up the practice with the intention of using it as self defense. Many also appreciate its aesthetic value, as it is can be very beautiful to watch. Others are drawn to the calmness they experience from doing the tai chi form.
When I teach tai chi, I stress the health aspects of the art. The tai chi form itself is very fluid and graceful; however I use it as a vehicle to achieve a much more important aim: the cultivation of qi (pronounced “Chee”). Qi is defined as ‘the circulating life force that encompasses all matter, animate and inanimate’. This would include humans. The Chinese postulated thousands of years ago the existence of meridians or vessels, 14 in all, that run up and down the body circulating this qi. Many believe while we are born with a certain amount of qi, Chinese herbal and dietary applications can increase the qi we have to work with. Tai chi and qi gong, with the proper breathing techniques, has also been thought to cultivate and increase the amount of qi we have. Moreover, tai chi masters purport to be able to control the movement of the qi in the meridians, moving qi to a place of deficiency in the body or dispersing qi from an area that has an excess. This is also one objective of an acupuncture treatment.
Some believe qi can be projected out of one body and into another. While studying acupuncture in China back in 1988, I experienced a qi gong master from the province in which I was working. He came to the hospital and gave me a qi gong treatment. From clear across the room, he proceeded to treat an acupuncture point on my leg just by projecting his qi out of his hand and into my lower thigh. Being skeptical, I didn’t feel anything for the first five minutes. Then I noticed a warm sensation spreading down my leg from the acupuncture point. He was noticeably focused and sweating from the forehead. My leg started to feel heavy and numb. Some may suggest it was my imagination but it sure felt real to me.
Many studies done at research centers are showing the benefits of tai chi for balance, strength, as well as helping afflictions such as osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and hypertension. Tai chi is the perfect vehicle for maintaining and improving health. It’s simple to learn, and it can be done anywhere and by almost anyone, young and old.